QUMSA defends membership policy

Vice chair states that QUMSA ‘encourages friendly relations and dialogue with non-Muslims’ and extends invitation to all

Samaa Khan, ArtSci ’08
Samaa Khan, ArtSci ’08

Concerns regarding the legality and integrity of Queen’s Muslim Students’ Association (QUMSA)’s membership policies have surfaced since the AMS Assembly’s first meeting.

Seemingly convincing criticisms of the organization have subsequently emerged, yet the arguments put forth are mistaken in their most basic premises.

QUMSA’s membership clause must be clarified because it has been widely misunderstood: Everyone is welcome as a QUMSA member to partake in all of its events and utilize all of its services, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. The club has never been segregationist in terms of participation.

Following the Islamic faith is only requisite for voting in QUMSA’s elections and running for positions on the club’s executive committee.

Although Stacey Duong wrote in Tuesday’s Journal that QUMSA’s exclusivity in this regard is not compatible with the group’s own goals, she highlights only select objectives of the organization. She removes the objectives from the context of the full mandate in its entirety.

QUMSA encourages friendly relations and dialogue with non-Muslims, and holds such values with the highest regard. Nevertheless, QUMSA’s primary focus is serving and representing the Muslim community on campus.

A quick glance at the QUMSA website confirms this point: the objectives Duong underscored are merely few among many that reveal QUMSA’s priority to assist Muslims with their religious and spiritual needs.

Given this mandate, it’s only logical that executive positions within QUMSA be taken up by Muslims. The best person to understand the needs of Muslim students, to have the necessary knowledge base and comprehension of Islam and to represent Muslims at Queen’s would naturally be a Muslim student.

As Duong explains, Section 18 of the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) allows special interest groups to give membership priority to those it’s engaged in serving.

Organizations with a religious mandate may require that members in an executive position be “similarly identified,” as the charter puts it.

It’s unclear exactly how QUMSA’s membership clause violates the OHRC. If the minimal restriction of eligibility in executive elections is not within the OHRC, then what is the purpose of Section 18 and how else could the exemption apply to any group?

QUMSA’s restriction of executive positions to Muslims falls well within the boundaries of the OHRC. This exclusion ensures that the club’s goals of serving Muslims on campus are realized; its secondary goals of fostering good relations with non-Muslims and increasing Islamic awareness are in no way hindered. Meanwhile, allowing for non-Muslims on QUMSA’s executive essentially jeopardizes the interests of those whom QUMSA aims above all to serve.

Attempting to attribute this clause to some fear of an anti-Muslim coup is absurd, as this matter has nothing to do with keeping non-Muslims out and everything to do with securing the club’s primary goals.

Duong’s allegations that QUMSA’s “wholesale exclusion of non-believers” is categorically unfounded. All of QUMSA’s events and services are open to everyone. Many non-Muslims participate in a variety of QUMSA’s activities--from educational events to social gatherings and even worship rituals.

It’s quite presumptuous for Duong to claim that non-Muslims joining in the club’s activities would “feel the effects of QUMSA’s segregationist practices.” I can’t help but wonder how people with such strong testimonials feel qualified to offer these judgments, and whether they themselves have ever attended one of QUMSA’s events or even discussed it with someone who has.

Perhaps if Duong and others had, they’d find that longtime members of QUMSA, who are non-Muslim themselves, attest to the fact that they’ve never felt treated or viewed as different.

If you compare QUMSA’s exclusion to employers who are barred from questioning applicants regarding their creed, you can apply the same line of logic to an alternative perspective: If employers ask for certain qualifications and educational requirements, can’t QUMSA ascertain a candidate’s aptitude to fulfill the executive’s constitutional responsibilities?

Regarding the definition of a Muslim, QUMSA has no place (and in fact categorically rejects) judging one Muslim from another, and has never purported to do so; students who consider themselves a Muslim can participate in executive elections. Moreover, it’s appalling that students have to fight to defend a right they are already entitled to and have already been granted. The OHRC, the AMS constitution and the Queen’s Human Rights Office have allowed QUMSA this exemption in accordance with the law.

Those skeptical or intrigued by QUMSA are invited to our upcoming Fast-a-thon on October 17.

We look forward to Muslims and non-Muslims partaking in the fast together, and gathering for dinner courtesy of QUMSA. Coming together to fundraise for a greater cause and foster a deeper mutual understanding is the best resolution I see.

Samaa Khan is QUMSA’s vice chair.

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